Djokovic may be the best ever but he is not the greatest

Novak Djokovic after winning the 2023 Australian Open title

OPINION Djokovic may be the best ever but he is not the greatest

Joba Ogunwale 21:03 - 31.01.2023

The Serbian won his 22nd major title on Sunday, leading to suggestions that he may be the greatest player to ever play the game.

“He’s one of the greatest in our sport... the greatest to have ever held a tennis racket,” These were Tsitsipas' words after he lost to Djokovic in the final of this year’s 2023 Open. 

The victory maintained Djokovic’s unblemished record in the finals of the first grand slam event of the year. 

Since his first-ever win in 2008, Djokovic is 10-0 in every Australian Open final he has played, with the win over Tsitsipas being the tenth. 

Dominant Novak

Since his first-ever win in 2008, Djokovic is 10-0 in every Australian Open final he has played, with the win over Tsitsipas being the tenth. 

Sunday’s victory was also redemption for Djokovic after he was deported from Australia last year due to issues with his vaccination status. 

Djokovic beat Tsitsipas to win his tenth Australian Open abd 22nd grand slam

However, the major headline from Djokovic’s win is that he tied Rafael Nadal as the men’s tennis player with the most grand slam singles titles. 

Djokovic’s victory on Sunday was his 22nd major title, the same as Nadal. But Djokovic’s win brought up the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate again, with many saying, including Tsitsipas, the Serb will go down as the GOAT. 

Djokovic is not the GOAT

In fairness, on paper and pure numbers alone, everything points to Djokovic as the goat. 

While he has the same number of majors as Nadal and two more than Roger Federer, Djokovic will go on to have the sole title. 

He is younger and fresher than Nadal, who is on his last legs. And considering the next generation are not ready to take over as we saw on Sunday,  Djokovic is on course to win more majors. 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both have 22 majors but the Serb is on course to win more

Away from the number of grand slam titles, Djokovic also holds the record for most weeks as number one, which is another major factor in the debate. 

The 35-year-old has started his 373rd week following his title on Sunday, strengthening his case to be the GOAT. 

Djokovic also has the most Masters titles, which once again reinforces his claim to the GOAT status. 

Djokovic also holds the record for most weeks as World No. 1

However, while Djokovic has the numbers and titles to be the GOAT, he is still not the greatest and will probably not go down as that. 

This is because the GOAT status is just more than numbers. It is an encapsulation of so many things, which include numbers.

To be the greatest, an athlete must have more than just numbers or titles. He/she needs to transcend the sport, influence a lot of people, especially the next generation and be popular outside the sport. 

While Djokovic does tick some of these boxes, he falls short in other categories. As much as he has the numbers, Djokovic has not been able to transcend tennis as Federer did. 

Swiss Tennis legend Roger Federer transcended tennis

His influence is also not as huge as that of his peers who are in the GOAT conversation. A whole lot of the new generation grew up idolising either Federer or Nadal, which is not something that can be said about Novak. 

This is not to say there are no players who idolise him, but they are not just as much as the players Federer or Nadal influenced. 

Novak Djokovic is not as popular as Federer or Nadal

A lot of it has to do with his style. For all of Djokovic’s winning attributes, his defensive style of game is not admirable to watch unlike Federer whose game is still the most attractive tennis has ever seen. 

Also, in terms of popularity, Djokovic is not as popular as Nadal or Federer, who remains arguably Tennis’ most popular athlete. 

To understand this, in the last three years, Federer played just about less than 20 games, yet he was the highest-paid player in tennis, thanks to his lucrative endorsement deals. 

During this period, Djokovic was arguably the dominant player in the game, yet his popularity was not as huge as that of his rival. 

These pointers all show that as much as Djokovic’s numbers are better than that of his big three rivals, his greatness is only limited to what happened on the tennis court. 

As Tsitsipas said in his losing speech, Djokovic is the best player to pick up the racket. But that should not be confused with being the Greatest because the GOAT is more than just ability or numbers. 

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